Follow TV Tropes


Doing It For The Art / Music

Go To

  • Darren Hayes collaborated with Robert Conley for a secret experimental album released under the pseudonym "We Are Smug". This album was created after he left Columbia Records to become an independent artist, and sits between The Tension and The Spark (his last album with Columbia, where he started to play with electronica) and This Delicate Thing We've Made, his first independent album that is itself an example of Doing It for the Art. The album was originally released online for free for one day - 8 May 2009, his birthday - and is now available on Amazon and iTunes.
  • Frank Zappa made music for his own amusement but managed to have a successful career because he was so hardworking and labels supported him. He was neither a rock star or an avant-garde jazz composer, he was just himself.
  • Within the punk community, Ian MacKaye and his band, Fugazi, became practically legends for this. During the 90s, when Alternative Rock was exploding into the mainstream, they refused many a contract from major labels, preferring to stay on their own indie label, Dischord, and thus retain their creative freedom. Some of the labels even offered to buy Dischord, but that was never an option, either. That's not all: you might expect a band that makes it a point of ethics to only play shows for $5 to go broke quickly, but because their shows sold so well and they toured so rigorously (especially in the early 90s), Fugazi was one of the few indie bands of the era to be consistently profitable, meaning they managed to be both commercially and artistically viable, and they did it all their own way.
  • Obscure bands, especially in extreme metal circles. A piece by a tech metal band has a groove, riff or time signature change once every 10 seconds or so. They also have songs that last about 8 minutes. And they don't make much money, as they have fans numbering in the thousands. Outside of Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder, Morbid Angel, Nile, Whitechapel (Band), and a select few others, extreme bands don't make anywhere near enough to provide anything resembling a decent living to members who rely on them as their sole source of income, and even those rare few musicians who do make a decent living from them are not loaded by any means.
  • OK Go flat out refuses to work with sponsors that attempt to exert creative control, which is why the "This Too Shall Pass" music video is sponsored by State Farm.
  • This is, arguably, the entire reason Gorillaz was conceived. The creators Jamie and Damon were sick of watching over-sensationalized, shallow performers on MTV, so they invented a fictional band as an experiment to break down the sarcomata.
  • Lady Gaga. Losing money while breaking sales records, selling her third album for 99¢, performing to the point of fainting on stage and nearly breaking her hip at age 27- some may call her shallow, overproduced, etc, but you certainly can't call her lazy.
  • Jack Conte, working by himself or in Pomplamoose, is clearly devoted to the art of the videosong. While he is recording himself singing or playing, he simultaneously runs a video camera and makes videos entirely made of studio footage.
  • Mago de Oz' leader Txus Di Fellatio had a contract to play for the Real Madrid but at the last moment he declined and formed the mentioned band, and he's a drummer not because he likes the drums (he hates them) but because he can't play anything else nor sing, and his two options were to be a drummer or not make a band at all.
  • Vanessa Carlton. Every song is a labor of love for her. Her main priority is being personally happy with her records regardless of industry trends. In particular, she left A&M Records over frustration from their interference and lack of support in regards to Harmonium and she isolated herself in the English countryside away from major label pressures to produce Rabbits on the Run.
  • Back before They Might Be Giants were, indeed, giants of the alternative rock world, they had the Dial-A-Song program, whereby you could just phone John Flansburgh's answering machine and hear a song that they'd recorded for fun.
    • It lasted well into their popularity and the new millennium, still at their local Brooklyn number. "Always busy, always broken" and "Free when you call from work" were its slogans.
  • Whilst music videos are generally made for publicity, several music video directors (such as Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry) see it as a medium without the narrative restrictions of film. And sometimes, doing it for the art works in favor of promotion.
  • Rush's third album, Caress of Steel, left their continued existence in doubt with the relatively poor sales of their odd concept album, including a pair of multi-part epics, was pressured by their label into making a commercial, mainstream album that played it safe and ensured that they would stay afloat. Figuring that they may as well go out with style, they released 2112, half of which was dominated by the title 20 minute, 7-part epic song; the polar opposite of what their label demanded. When the prog-rock Concept Album managed to propel Rush to mainstream stardom, they were allowed to do whatever they wanted. More than one huge song followed, with "Camera Eye" on Moving Pictures being their final inordinately long song.
  • While the results of her efforts are universally regarded as awful, there's no doubt Jan Terri qualifies for this trope. She had no budget (or talent) but goddammit, she made those videos anyway.
  • The KLF didn't want anyone to think that their commercial success was a compromise of their ideals, so after The White Room album was released they announced their retirement from music (by terrorising the Brit Awards with a machinegun full of blanks) and then went on to erase all the material for their unreleased Black Room and remove their entire back catalogue from sale. Then, just to make sure their message was crystal clear, they burned a million pounds.
  • Charles Ives was a successful insurance executive, so in his musical pursuits in his spare time, he composed to please only himself, not patrons or critics. As a result, his music was wildly original. "Iconoclastic" is the standard adjective used to describe Ives. Many of his most famous works weren't performed until decades after they were composed.
  • Robert Fripp has dissolved King Crimson on multiple occasions just as they were about to make it big, only to bring it back with an entirely new sound. Fripp has frequently stated that aiming for success would be bad for the music.
  • The Doors' singer Jim Morrison was said to be this. When he found out the rest of the band allowed car company Buick to use "Light My Fire" from The Doors (Album) in a commercial, Morrison was furious and threatened to trash one of Buick's cars on television in protest if the commercial aired nationwide.
  • Buckethead seems to be doing this. His music has never been mainstream, although he did once get more fame being temporarily in Guns N' Roses. None of his albums are widely popular, however, and he's more well known as an underground musician. He also seems to compose whatever he likes, without regard to fan demand or getting more sales and a wider audience.
  • Emileigh Rohn, the woman behind Chiasm. Despite being busy as a molecular biologist, she still tries to find time to compose and release an album, even if it takes her years.
  • Any Brony music counts as this. Many artists like So Great And Powerful, The Living Tombstone, Grottomatic, Sherclop Ponies, and Wooden Toaster let people download their songs for free.
  • British drummer Bill Bruford has been known to leave or dismantle often very successful projects, including those connected with his solo career, if he feels the music has become creatively stagnant or uninspiring, unhealthy or from the get-go, felt a different career path would challenge him or inspire him, or the project has reached a peak and could only repeat its formula with diminishing returns. He caused a lot of controversy in 1972 by leaving Yes (after a huge buyout of his contract) at the height of their artistic and commercial success, just after recording Close to the Edge, to join King Crimson in time to record and tour behind Larks' Tongues in Aspic, and his interests in jazz-influenced improvisation led him and Allan Holdsworth to leave the Supergroup U.K. to form jazz-fusion group Bruford, reputedly because the other members insisted Holdsworth and Bruford play their parts just like they did on the record.
  • In the mid-1940s, when the cast album of Oklahoma! became a hit, every major record company in America started to bid for the rights to record original cast albums of Broadway musicals. Under producer Goddard Lieberson, Columbia Records not only recorded the musicals that were big hits or near-hits but also recreated on LP many musicals dating as far back as the 1920s. Ethan Mordden called Street Scene "the first Absolutely Guaranteed Flop to get an album"; though its operatic score had to be heavily abridged to fit on twelve-inch 78's, such technological limitations no longer applied to The Most Happy Fella, whose expansive score was recorded with nearly all the dialogue on 3 LPs. Anyone Can Whistle had already ended its one-week Broadway run, but Lieberson nevertheless chose to record the original cast album, which helped give Angela Lansbury the opportunity to play her Star-Making Role in Mame.
  • Popular IDM techno duo Autechre pride themselves on this trope. They're talented enough to create successful mainstream sounding albums, and at first, that's what they were doing. However, the group has always been about studying and experimenting with the art of sound and noise, resulting in some pretty noise heavy albums that sound like garble to anyone not familiar with their way of creating tracks. For example: Listen to their earlier tracks like Montreal. And then compare that to their later tracks like Gantz Graf In fact, the group is on record saying that they prefer their later albums instead of their earlier mainstream sounding ones.
  • Progressive jazz-rock band The Reign of Kindo. Read for yourself.
  • Trance musicians pride themselves on this, knowing well how dedicated their fans are to their material. In fact, many of the scene's biggest names have had very long, illustrious and very busy careers and they've all stated their biggest drive is their passion for the genre. Armin Van Buuren is noted for having won the title of "Number 1 DJ in the World" for a record number of five times and has admitted he could retire early after a career that's gone on since the nineties but has stated he feels like he's only just begun to scratch the surface.
  • Underworld only got famous after they started doing it for the art. Their earlier work was mostly commercially-friendly pop reflecting what was popular at the time. Now they have a new sound every album, full of mostly incomprehensible lyrics (that probably aren't meant to be comprehensible), reading mostly like snapshots of the lyricists life couched in metaphors.
  • Billy Joel described his 1983 covers album of the artists he grew up listening to, An Innocent Man, as a "singer's album".
  • BTS. A close look to their work and interviews they've done shows that, rather than sales, their main priority is their music and the messages they can convey through it (with topics like the school system, social inequality, mental health, etc.). They go the extra mile so that their entire work at large constitutes a narrative of personal growth drawing from their own experiences, be it through Sequel Songs, Sequel Concept Albums or a fictional story told through an entire continuity of music videos (the BTS Universe), all content that is often planned months, even years in advance. While they do acknowledge about charts, they tend to talk about them more as a means to achieve a bigger influence to makes themselves heard, making a point of having at least one song with social commentary per album.
    • There's also a lot of songs they've made for free, including original songs ("DDAENG", "4 o'clock", among others), covers, remixes/rearrangements of their work, and 4 solo mixtapes (RM, Agust D, Hope World, mono.), all released through their official Soundcloud page along with free download links.
    • This even applies to their performances, always going the extra mile to make them all unique and memorable in Korean awards and year-end shows. Jimin dancing blindfolded? Pushing themselves to their limit by putting an extended version of "Mic Drop" at the end of a 15-minute performance? Making a live band, heavy metal version of "DNA"? Incorporating traditional Korean dances? They don't have to go that far, but they do.
  • Taylor Swift: A Rolling Stones article revealed that the official announcement to switch from country to pop from 1989 onward was against her label's wishes. They wanted her to continuously pander to country radio but she decided that isn't true with the direction she wants to go with her music anymore.
  • Gustav Mahler is now considered to be one of the greatest symphonic composers of all time, but his professional job was as a conductor, so most of his compositions were written in his spare time, simply because he wanted to write them (and also to challenge himself on what he had learned from his conducting). This partially explains his relatively limited œuvre, and also why he was better known for his skills as a conductor than as a composer during his lifetime.
  • Sia has always been vocal about this; in 2010, Sia admitted that winning awards is not a measure of success in her life. In 2020, Sia also explained that she does not mind if her art is criticised, and cares more about being understood as a person.
  • David Bowie cited this as his main reason for making music once he'd moved out of his self-described "Phil Collins years" in the 1980s. Having previously considered retiring after the stress of trying to appeal to not only longtime fans and critics, but also and especially the Newbie Boom that Let's Dance brought him, some advice from collaborator Reeves Gabrels motivated him to stop trying to "play to the gallery" as he put it, instead focusing on whether or not his music appealed to himself.
    "Never play to the gallery ... never work for other people at what you do, always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest it in some way you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society. I think it's terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other peoples expectations, I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that."
  • This is the cornerstone of Deathspell Omega's entire approach to making music. As they state in their 2019 interview with Niklas Göransson for Bardo Methodology:
    "[A]lmost every great piece of art in history contains multiple worlds or interactions and the acknowledgment of the people who came before, those worthy of every praise and whose works scarred the world forevermore. It’s everything but the navel-gazing, frivolous narcissism our contemporaries revel in, because it demands that you humble yourself and learn and learn evermore. It is certainly not a matter of bland imitation but of paying your dues to people and works of exceptional fabric within the context of a work of singular nature which, unmistakenly, is your own. All the while paving the way for whatever or whoever may possibly come next. Within a line of work that primarily yields desolation, these transmissions of moments of grace are perhaps the only fully positive aspect – those rare moments during which some individuals rise to the firmament for a brief instant and the banal recedes in the face of a triumphant singularity."
    • Furthermore, if they aren't satisfied with a work, they don't release it, even if they've spent eight months on it. This also explains why they're willing to work with people that have radically different political views from their own: they consider conflict to improve their art. As they explained to Roy Kristensen in a 2020 interview for Cult Never Dies:
    "Craftsmanship, talent and hard-earned skills are admirable, regardless of context. There is always something to learn and to apply to your own vision, thereby enhancing it. Humans are just a channel for something infinitely greater than their persons, anyway. And there is a strategic dimension to that approach: there is a lot to learn from opposites, conflict, disharmony and radical alterity."
  • Gotye considers himself less of a "musician" and more of a "tinkerer", someone who spends his time prioritizing experimenting with his craft over profiting off of it. When "Somebody That I Used to Know" became an international smash hit, he willingly opted against running ads on its music video (or any of his videos, for that matter) despite the song alone amassing over a billion views, as well as giving 50% of that song's royalties to the estate of Luiz Bonfá, the late Brazilian musician that he sampled for the song. He also didn't mind not attempting a follow-up hit, with his trajectory after taking off being mostly the same as before in coasting through smaller passion projects and other musical endeavors, including putting his "Gotye" moniker on hiatus as he returned to drumming for his local band, The Basics.
  • Punk Rock band Chumbawamba infamously toyed with this during the late 90's — the members were bona fide anarchists and their music had heavy political slant, being critical of major capitalist establishments and authorities (among other things), so it was only natural that for most of their life, "doing it for the art" (i.e. without financial returns in mind) was their ethos. This made it all the more unexpected when they signed onto EMI in 1997 (a record label they previously railed hard against, even titling a 1989 compilation Fuck EMI), and when this naturally proved controversial among fellow anarchists, the band defended their decision by pointing out that no matter what distributor they were signed to, they lived in a capitalist world and were ultimately going to need to play by the rules of financial viability (pointing out that their previous independent record label was ultimately a business to make more money, making them no less of an institution than EMI for the band's tastes), arguing that a major record label would give them more visibility to espouse their messages. After the release of their sole radio hit "Tubthumping", they ended up sticking to their ideological guns, going on TV talk shows and encouraging people to shoplift their albums, unexpectedly performing the song at the 1998 BRIT awards with altered lyrics in support of the Liverpool Dockers' Strike (which included a band member dunking water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was in attendance), basically doing everything to assure that their time in the label was short-lived, but was what they as a band wanted to do (they were also offered $1.5 million by Nike for use of "Tubthumping" in a commercial, and the band took mere seconds to say "no.") They ended up parting ways from EMI in 2001, and the band proudly announced they got what they wanted from the experience — a bigger audience, great music, and money to donate to politically-relevant causes — and were fully content to return to producing their usual work independently.